Here's one class where you wouldn't mind a homework assignment: learning to drive a power cat in the Caribbean.
Autumn is a busy time for the Power & Motoryacht staff. Come mid-September, many of us embark on a multicity boat-show circuit that lasts until early November, bracketed by the usual plethora of boat tests. So it was good timing when two of my PMY colleagues invited me on a five-day cruise in the Caribbean slated for early September, when there was a rare respite from our busy travel schedules.
However, in the words of Talking Heads' front man David Byrne, "This ain't no party...this ain't no fooling around." I'd been invited to participate in Steve and Doris Colgate's Power Cruise School, an offshoot of the Colgate's Offshore Sailing School they founded in 1964. The school has a fleet of NauticBlue powercats (see "Lease A Cat," this article) that it uses for its four- and five-day powerboat courses, and my mission was to gauge how cruising, close-quarters handling, liveaboard comforts, etc., on a powercat compares with the same activities on a monohull.
Before our departure, I'd received course materials at my office indicating that the objective of the class was to make each participant comfortable with all aspects of running a twin-hull powerboat in the 35- to 50-foot range; the rules of the road; basic and advanced navigation skills; close-quarters maneuvering and docking; anchoring and mooring; basic engine maintenance and troubleshooting; and miscellaneous topics such as man-overboard recovery. Our setting would be the Bahamas' Abacos Islands (The Colgates also have schools in Florida and the BVI). Crescent-shape Great Abaco is bordered by a string of barrier islands along her eastern flank; between them is the Sea of Abaco. It's a great spot for the Power Cruise School, as these cays are home to a multitude of protected harbors; tiny, welcoming Caribbean towns; and superb diving on the area's myriad reefs, all ideal wind-down distractions for after-class activities.
In addition to navigation, rules of the road, close-quarter maneuvering, and basic maintenance, we learned how to safely board and operate a dinghy.
After flying into Marsh Harbour and spending the first evening in a comfortable hotel, we woke the following morning and made our way to the Southern Comfort, a NauticBlue 464 powercat. We stowed the five-day supply of provisions that Colgate Schools provided, and in a few minutes were greeted by our instructor Kevin Wensley. After introductions and a general overview on what to expect for the week, we jumped right into a class that's just as important as wheel time: engine and genset maintenance and troubleshooting. First Wensley showed us the location of the twin 370-hp Yanmar diesels' and genset's dipsticks and oil fills, the engines' accessory belts (and how to determine their proper tension), and the coolant checks and fills. He also demonstrated how to check and replenish fluids, the Racor fuel-water separators (including how to drain water from them) and sea strainers. This is basic information everyone onboard should know about, and for the most part, applies to all powerboats. But Wensley went a step further by tracing the flow of diesel fuel and coolant and explaining how raw water cools it via the heat exchanger—information that's helpful when engine troubleshooting.
After checks we were off to our first overnight location, a mooring in Settlement's Harbor, just off Great Guana Cay. We gathered on the 46's flying bridge and Wensley covered some navigation basics, such as stand-on versus give-way vessel and when to alter course. I immediately noticed how well the 46 responded to his commands, an impression that only grew as the week went on. Whether we were on tabletop-flat seas, as was the case every morning, or in wind-driven three- and four-footers, the NauticBlue's displacement-style twin hulls provided a stable, dry ride.
I also discovered that the 46 is an excellent training vessel in other ways. One is her shallow 3'8" draft, an advantage in the often-skinny waters of the Abacos. Wensley explained that here reefs are often not well marked, although most do appear on charts. That's why, in addition to plotting with parallel rules, pencils, and dividers, we learned to gauge the depth of the water by its color.
Be sure to take a walking tour of Hope town to see its colorful houses.
Living space on the 46 was also superb. Our boat had four identical staterooms, two in each hull and each with an en suite head, plus a convertible settee in the saloon. The saloon-galley area is comfortable, spacious, and flooded with light from the 46's side windows and windshield. I'm hard-pressed to think of a monohull of similar LOA with accommodations like these and a draft under 4'0", a winning combination for a bareboat charter.
However, all that space comes at a price. During close-quarters maneuvers from the starboard-side upper helm, I found the view aft obscured by the flying-bridge overhang and not much better to port. To get that shallow draft, she's fitted with relatively small 22x31 props that performed well during most docking situations. But to spin her during other close-quarters maneuvers, I had to really goose the throttles; larger props would increase her draft but get a better bite. The hydraulic steering also could've used power assist, but on the other hand, sightlines were excellent forward and with the foredeck so close to the bridge, communication was easy, a must for picking up a mooring ball.
The 464's stability in a variety of conditions, airy saloon, four staterooms with en suite heads, and shallow draft make her not only an ideal Bahamas cruiser, but the perfect floating classroom for the Colgate school. I never thought that school could be this much fun.
Lease A Cat
Clearwater, Florida-based NauticBlue offers a decidedly interesting approach to boat ownership: purchase one of its South Africa-designed 34- to 47-foot catamarans and then lease her back to NauticBlue via its Advantage Ownership Program.
This program gives owners eight weeks each year to enjoy their boats in Tortola, BVI, Florida, or the Bahamas and charters them out the remaining time as a way to offset the costs of purchase and maintenance. In fact, NauticBlue says the monthly dividend typically exceeds the monthly mortgage. Plus you get free dockage, insurance, maintenance, and other operating expenses. NauticBlue says the boats are "impeccably maintained," and perhaps best of all, you can either purchase them at the end of the charter term or move into a new boat.
This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.